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Dublin: 4°C Wednesday 3 March 2021

The 5 football counties who can make a major 2016 championship breakthrough

This lot will set out attainable goals for themselves – and are confident of achieving them.

1. Roscommon

Fergal O'Donnell and Kevin McStay Roscommon joint-bosses Fergal O'Donnell and Kevin McStay. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The huge success story of the 2016 Allianz League campaign, Roscommon were on fire before they ran into Kerry at the semi-final stage.

But there’s been massive progress made under the management of Kevin McStay and Fergal O’Donnell, and the Rossies can feel optimistic about a Connacht breakthrough.

On paper, at least, there’s a favourable path to a final against Mayo or Galway.

Roscommon had their troubles against New York but they should improve for a quarter-final against Leitrim, with the winners of that to play a Sligo team coming in cold.

Sligo shocked Roscommon at the semi-final stage last year but the players involved on that occasion would need little or no motivation if they meet the Yeats County again.

2. Clare

Colm Collins Clare boss Colm Collin has made huge progress with the Banner men in recent years. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Clare roared to promotion from Division 3 of the Allianz Football League, and then went one step better by defeating Kildare to collect third tier silverware at Croke Park.

Colm Collins has worked miracles with this Clare team, bringing them from Divisions 4 to 2 in just three seasons.

In his first year at the helm, Collins brought Clare from the Division 4 doldrums, consolidation was the order of the day last year and they pushed on again in 2016.

Clare have some excellent footballers at their disposal, including Gary Brennan, David Tubridy and Eoin Cleary, and the hope now is that they can be competitive in Munster.

The problem is that Kerry are their semi-final opponents should the Banner men take care of business against Limerick but Tipp, in recent seasons, have shown good form during the qualifiers and there’s no reason why Clare can’t enjoy an extended summer run.

3. Kildare

Cian O'Neill Cian O'Neill is plotting a potential route to a Leinster final with Dublin. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Kildare find themselves on the better side of the Leinster draw, with Meath and Dublin in the opposite half.

In Cian O’Neill’s first season at the helm, Kildare will fancy their chances of seeing off Wexford in the provincial quarter-final but David Power’s men are dangerous opposition.

The reward for the winners is a clash with Offaly, Longford or Westmeath, and O’Neill would fancy taking care of business against any of those opponents.

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Dublin in a Leinster final would provide the acid test, of course, and the Sky Blues wiped them out at the semi-final stage last year.

Kildare gained promotion from Division 3 of the Allianz League, bouncing back to the second tier at the first attempt, but losing to Clare at Croke Park shows there’s still a road to travel.

4. Tyrone

Sean Cavanagh and Mickey Harte celebrate after the game Mickey Harte and Sean Cavanagh remain a potent double act. Source: Lorraine.O'Sullivan

Tyrone’s march to the All-Ireland semi-final stage last year was most impressive, especially when you consider they lost their Ulster SFC opener against Donegal.

They made steady progress through the qualifiers and memorably saw off Monaghan in the All-Ireland quarter-final, a major statement of intent against the Ulster champions.

Tyrone were competitive against Kerry in last August’s semi-final but ultimately fell short in a highly-charged affair at GAA HQ.

But with Mickey Harte (who else?) at the helm again this year, Tyrone romped to promotion from Division 2 and produced a clinical display at Croke Park to win the second tier silverware against Cavan.

Tyrone haven’t won the Ulster championship since 2010 and while ruling the province again would represent a breakthrough for Harte’s men, Sam Maguire is the ultimate goal.

5. Mayo

Is Stephen Rochford the man to end Mayo's All-Ireland senior football championship famine? Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Mayo are going for six-in-a-row in Connacht but will have to get past Galway, and possibly Roscommon, to win the J.J. Nestor Cup again.

But the bigger prize for Mayo, as it is on an annual basis now, is the elusive All-Ireland senior crown.

Fans of the green and red don’t need reminding that Sam Maguire hasn’t been seen in the county since 1951 but Mayo have been knocking hard on the door in recent years.

They gave Dublin two cracking games in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final and subsequent replay but even that level of competitiveness, and winning Connacht again, wasn’t enough to save joint-bosses Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly.

Mayo left it late before securing Division 1 survival this year but manager Stephen Rochford will look to time his side’s championship run to perfection.

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